Ryan Saunders

Wolves Notes: Wiggins, Rose, Saunders, Draft

The Timberwolves need to take drastic action on Andrew Wiggins to get the franchise back on the right track, according to Michael Rand and Jim Souhan of The Star Tribune. Wiggins has regressed this year in the first season of a $147.7MM extension. His shooting percentage has dropped to a career-low 40.0% and he ranks last in the league in true shooting among 92 players who have logged at least 1,700 minutes.

Souhan believes Minnesota should do whatever it can to trade Wiggins this summer. Rand recommends taking away his starting spot, but admits that would only lower any trade value he still has. He adds that trading Wiggins now would mean selling him at a low point and likely taking back an expensive contract in return. Souhan contends that the Wolves are better without Wiggins, stating that the priority should be to get rid of him and accept whatever return they can get.

There’s more today out of Minnesota:

  • With Tom Thibodeau gone, the future of the “TimberBulls” – the ex-Chicago players he brought to Minnesota – is uncertain, writes Britt Robson of The Athletic. Derrick Rose, Taj Gibson and Luol Deng will all be free agents this summer and may be able to get better deals elsewhere. Rose has revived his career with the Wolves, but Robson notes that his value is only high when his shot is falling and he comes with a constant injury risk. Rose should receive several mid-level offers in the $6-8MM range, tweets ESPN’s Bobby Marks.
  • The best chance for interim head coach Ryan Saunders to keep his job is for ownership to recognize how he has been adapting to a short-handed situation, notes Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic. Keita Bates-Diop got his first career start in Saturday’s victory over the Wizards and Cameron Reynolds, who is on his second 10-day contract, played 20 minutes. Krawczynski points out that Saunders’ roster hasn’t been fully healthy since he took over for Thibodeau.
  • If the Wolves’ pick falls in the middle of the lottery, they could be the team to gamble on Bol Bol, Rand suggests in a separate story. The Oregon center was projected as a top-five pick before suffering an injury to his left foot.

Northwest Notes: Exum, Wolves’ Search, Middleton, Towns

Jazz reserve guard Dante Exum will miss at least two more weeks due to a bone bruise on his left ankle, Tony Jones of The Athletic tweets. Exum hasn’t played since January 5. He was averaging 7.4 PPG and 2.7 APG with the second unit in 39 games. Exum signed a three-year contract with an annual base salary of $9.6MM over the summer.

We have more from the Northwest Division:

  • The Timberwolves have yet to contact any potential executives or coaches as possible replacements for GM Scott Layden and interim head coach Ryan Saunders, according to Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic. Saunders, son of former Minnesota coach Flip Saunders, was elevated when owner Glen Taylor fired Tom Thibodeau. Taylor is expected to use the rest of the regular season to evaluate Layden and Saunders, Krawczynski adds.
  • The Thunder showed a lot of interest in Bucks swingman Khris Middleton prior to the 2012 draft, according to ESPN’s Zach Lowe. Middleton tore the meniscus in his right knee in early November of his final college season with Texas A&M and it affected his play, causing his draft stock to tumble. He was selected in the second round by Detroit with the 39 overall pick.
  • The Trail Blazers are in a better spot than they were last season entering the stretch run, an Associated Press story notes. They were sixth in the West a year ago at the All-Star break but held the fourth spot this season. Moreover, the Blazers picked up some reinforcements this winter by signing center Enes Kanter and trading for guard Rodney Hood.
  • It wouldn’t be surprising if Nuggets forward Trey Lyles signs his $3.7MM qualifying offer, Mike Singer of the Denver Post opines. Lyles’ production has fallen off recently and he may not even stay in the playoff rotation, Singer continues. The Nuggets are thin at the power forward spot, which would increase the odds of them extending the qualifying offer and making Lyles a restricted free agent. However, he’s a poor 3-point shooter and will probably have a tough time attracting an offer sheet, Singer adds.
  • Karl-Anthony Towns has entered the league’s concussion protocol after being involved in a car accident on Thursday, Michael Scotto of The Athletic tweets. The Timberwolves’ star big man will not play against the Knicks on Friday. That will end his streak of 303 straight starts.

Northwest Notes: Morris, Saric, Saunders

While the Thunder entered the All-Stat break with a loss to the Pelicans, the team will start the second half with an added boost. Oklahoma City agreed to terms with veteran big man Markieff Morris, which should fortify the team’s frontcourt.

Morris, who spent most of the season with the Wizards, has not played since December, when a neck injury forced him to the sidelines. While his role and performance were inconsistent in Washington, Morris averaged 11.5 PPG and 5.1 RPG in 34 games. Morris figures to serve as a primary backup at the four in Oklahoma City.

Brett Dawson and Fred Katz of The Athletic examined how Morris will fit in with the Thunder’s current roster. Katz compared Morris’ potential fit to that of Enes Kanter with a more capable perimeter game. While it remains to be seen how Morris settles in, at least one new teammate is excited by his arrival.

“We’re good,Paul George said. “We’re a good group. We added a big piece in Markieff that we’re excited for, and we’re gonna be ready for the second half after this break.”

Check out more Northwest Division notes:

  • The Timberwolves‘ decision to start Dario Saric in place of Taj Gibson led the team to score 74 points in the paint on Thursday. Interim head coach Ryan Saunders complimented Saric on creating space with his presence, per Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle. “That’s one thing we like with Dario spacing the floor and having Taj in there at times, too,” Saunders said. “Karl(-Anthony Towns) has a little more opportunity to work. Playing through Karl is definitely a focus of ours.”
  • Speaking of Saunders, he’s only a few weeks into the job after the firing of Tom Thibodeau. Saunders praised the Timberwolves‘ players for easing his transition into head coaching duties, Feigen writes“Anything that’s new and sudden, it takes time to get more comfortable just in your regimen, your daily routine in things. But I felt comfortable out there,” he said. “The credit goes to the players in terms of how they make me feel, too.”
  • At 27-30, the Timberwolves are four games back of the eighth seed in the Western Conference. While their postseason odds are not great, the team insists there is reason for optimism entering the second half, Chris Hine of the Star Tribune writes.

Northwest Notes: Gobert, Exum, Wittman, Abrines

Jazz center Rudy Gobert and members of the organization are furious over his All-Star snub. Gobert told Aaron Falk of the team’s website and other media members that he can’t understand how coaches can preach defense and then leave him off their ballots. “It’s disrespectful not only toward me but toward the team, the organization and toward the game,” said Gobert, the league’s reigning Defensive Player of the Year. Jazz coach Quin Snyder echoed Gobert’s gripe, ESPN’s Tim McMahon tweets. “We talk about defense being valued, but when we have a chance to reward it, we reward scoring again and again.” Jazz president Steve Starks tweeted that there should be more transparency in the voting. The coaches select the reserves. “Complete nonsense and we need more integrity and accountability. If the coaches vote than their ballots should be made public.”

We have more from around the Northwest Division:

  • Reserve Jazz guard Dante Exum will not return to action until sometime after the All-Star break, Eric Woodyard of the Deseret News reports. Exum hasn’t played since suffering a left ankle sprain against Detroit on January 5th. He has been participating in on-court work but won’t even be re-evaluated until after the break. Exum signed a three-year, $33MM contract last summer.
  • The Timberwolves have hired former head coach Randy Wittman as an advisor to first-year coach Ryan Saunders, Chris Hine of the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports. Saunders was on the Wizards’ staff when Wittman was the head coach there. “He’s an ear for me,” Saunders told Hine. “Another basketball mind to bounce things off of. I’m comfortable with him, known him for a long time.”
  • Thunder shooting guard Alex Abrines has returned to action but he’ll have to work his way back into the rotation, according to Erik Horne of The Oklahoman. Abrines played six minutes against Orlando on Tuesday after missing 17 games due to an illness and a personal matter. During his absence, Abdel Nader seized a rotation spot. Abrines will have battle Nader and Terrance Ferguson for minutes.

Wolves Notes: Saunders, Rose, Wiggins, Saric

One of Ryan Saunders’ first moves as Timberwolves head coach has been to expand the rotation, writes Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic. Former coach Tom Thibodeau, who has long been criticized for relying too much on his starters, used a set rotation of nine players before being fired Sunday. Saunders has expanded that to 10 and has been substituting much earlier.

Saunders has also been trying out different combinations, such as Taj Gibson and Dario Saric, who only shared the floor for just one minute under Thibodeau.

“There definitely is (some adjusting to do),” Tyus Jones said after last night’s game. “And it’s still early. But until we’re all the way acclimated, we’ve got to let our energy be what we fall back on. We’ve got to be the team that is going to play the hardest night-in and night-out.”

There’s more news from Minnesota:

  • In his first home game as head coach, Saunders received an enthusiastic reception from fans who used to loudly boo Thibodeau during pre-game introductions, notes Chip Scoggins of The Star-Tribune. One of the reasons behind the coaching change was that Thibodeau had become such an unpopular figure in the Twin Cities. Afterward, the players accepted blame for the loss and offered some advice to Saunders. “If anything I just tell him to be himself. Players will be able tell if he’s not being himself,” said Derrick Rose, whose connections with Thibodeau go back to Chicago. “We all respect him. That’s one thing that he has. He has our respect. That’s huge for a coach.”
  • Saunders hopes to protect Rose by keeping his minutes to about 30 per game, according to Chris Hine of The Star-Tribune. The veteran guard, who returned to action Friday after missing six games with an injured ankle, saw his minutes fluctuate wildly under Thibodeau. Hines notes that every time Rose has topped 38 minutes this season, he either sat out the next game or couldn’t finish it because of injury.
  • Andrew Wiggins is the Minnesota player most likely to benefit from the coaching change, according to Michael Rand of The Star-Tribune. He scored 40 points in Saunders’ first game in charge and had a 37% usage rate, far beyond his season average of 23.8%. Rand cites Saric and Jones as other players who should improve under Saunders.

Latest On Thibodeau, Saunders, Timberwolves

After reaching out to Tyronn Lue when the former Cavaliers head coach was let go earlier this season, Doc Rivers didn’t waste any time doing the same with Tom Thibodeau once Thibs was dismissed by the Timberwolves on Sunday. According to Andrew Greif of The Los Angeles Times, it’s not yet clear how involved Thibodeau might be with the Clippers, but it sounds like he’ll at least share some thoughts with Rivers over the course of the season.

“Tom will be around,” Rivers said on Monday. “Tom’s around even when he’s not. He watches every NBA game, so the one thing with Tom is he’s going to be working at home even without the job, that’s what he does. And he’s another guy who loves the game of basketball. And for me, I love people who love the game.”

Like Lue, Thibodeau was an assistant on Rivers’ staff in Boston years ago, so it makes sense that the Clippers’ coach would reach out to him. Lue’s role with the Clips is an informal one, and it sounds like the club might go that same route with Thibodeau.

Here’s more on Thibodeau, the Timberwolves, and new interim head coach Ryan Saunders:

  • Karl-Anthony Towns said today that he and his teammates were stunned by the news of Thibodeau’s firing, and that “no one saw it coming,” as Malika Andrew of ESPN.com relays. Towns admitted he was just telling Minnesota’s assistant coaches last week that the organization seemed to be gaining some much-needed stability. “I jinxed that badly,” Towns said.
  • When asked on Monday what changes he’d bring to the Timberwolves, Saunders said he wanted to be introduce a more “collaborative” approach, writes Michael Rand of The Star Tribune. That was an interesting answer, according to Rand, who notes that multiple people in the organization have told him that Thibodeau was “notoriously bad at delegating tasks” and “seldom took a collaborative approach to problem-solving.”
  • Dave Campbell of The Associated Press takes a closer look at Saunders, who becomes the youngest active head coach in the NBA. Despite being just 32 years old, Saunders is one of the most respected figures in the organization, says Campbell. “He’s the only coach that’s been here since my rookie year,” said Andrew Wiggins. “There’s been a lot of changes, but I trust him. I have a good relationship with him. I think he’s going to do a great job, especially because you can talk to him.”
  • Bryan Kalbrosky of HoopsHype (link via USA Today) provides a few suggestions for coaches who could be candidates to take over the full-time job in Minnesota.

Latest On Tom Thibodeau, Wolves

Contrary to a report that emerged last night in the wake of Tom Thibodeau’s firing in Minnesota, former Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg is not an “immediate candidate” to become the team’s next coach or president, a source tells Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic.

Interim coach Ryan Saunders will be given an opportunity to earn the job on a permanent basis, Krawczynski adds, and he has strong support from his players, who respect his work ethic and welcome his approachable nature as a change from Thibodeau. The organization will consider hiring an assistant who has experience as a head coach to help Saunders with the challenges of his new position.

GM Scott Layden was retained last night and will likely remain in place for the rest of the season, but he may need the team to make the playoffs to keep his job beyond that.

While the Wolves have a disappointing 19-21 record, the decision to part with Thibodeau was based on business as much as basketball, Krawczynski writes. The coach had become unpopular with fans, who routinely booed him every time his name was announced in pre-game introductions. Even worse, they were staying away, as Minnesota has dropped to 29th in home attendance after ranking 21st last season. The organization didn’t want to keep an alienating presence in place with a season ticket drive looming.

It’s no secret that owner Glen Taylor was unhappy with Thibodeau and Layden over how they handled the situation with Jimmy Butler before he was traded to the Sixers. Taylor commented several times that he believed both men were dragging their feet on Butler’s trade request and that they let the volatile star hijack the team during training camp and the early season.

Thibodeau has long had a reputation of giving heavy minutes to his starters, and several players complained about poor communication over their roles. Krawczynski reports that Gorgui Dieng, who has fallen out of the rotation after signing a huge contract, was “openly seething” in the locker room after Friday’s game. Tyus Jones, Anthony Tolliver and Jeff Teague have also expressed frustration over their status on the team.

As one of the few remaining coach/executives left in the league, Thibodeau’s standing was also harmed by several personnel decisions that didn’t work out. He was the driving force behind the decision to send Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn and a draft pick that turned out to be Lauri Markkanen to the Bulls to acquire Butler. He also convinced Taylor to part with Ricky Rubio in exchange for Teague. And of course, he was responsible for bringing Taj Gibson, Derrick Rose and Luol Deng, his former players in Chicago, to Minnesota to form the “Timber-Bulls.”

Taylor was in Florida last night as Layden and CEO Ethan Casson delivered the news to Thibodeau. Taylor’s only comment came in an official statement from the organization, saying, “These decisions are never easy to make, but we felt them necessary to move our organization forward.”

Timberwolves Fire Tom Thibodeau

The Timberwolves have fired Tom Thibodeau as their head coach and president of basketball operations, according to Shams Charania and Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic (via Twitter). After dealing with the Jimmy Butler fiasco, the Timberwolves currently sit at 19-21 and are on the outside looking in on the Western Conference playoff picture.

Krawczynski is also reporting that Ryan Saunders will take over as head coach on an interim basis while Scott Layden will still serve as the team’s general manager.

Meanwhile, Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN is reporting that Fred Hoiberg is a serious candidate to become the team’s GM or coach. Hoiberg previously served as the Timberwolves’ assistant GM before leaving to be the head coach at Iowa State University. Wojnarowski also believes that Monty Williams may emerge as a serious candidate for the coaching position due to previous interest that the Timberwolves had in bringing Williams in as head coach.

Team owner Glen Taylor spoke to the media about the decision to fire Thibodeau, stating that “we’ve gone up through halfway through the season and I don’t think we’re where we thought we would be or where we think we should be.” Taylor also expressed a desire to make the playoffs, believing that making such a change with half the season left may give the Wolves a chance to do so.

In two and a half seasons with the Timberwolves, Thibodeau had a 96-107 regular season record, leading the club to the playoffs last season for the first time since 2004. However, his decision to acquire Butler from his old team in Chicago ultimately led to his downfall. Although the All-NBA swingman helped Minnesota win 47 games in 2017/18, his offseason trade request – and Thibodeau’s initial reluctance to grant that request – created several weeks of drama within the organization and didn’t reflect well on Thibs.

Thibodeau’s firing represents a continuation of a trend in the NBA’s head coaching ranks. Within the last two years, four head coaches who held president of basketball operations titles within their respective organizations have had those responsibilities removed or have been fired altogether. Mike Budenholzer (Hawks), Doc Rivers (Clippers), and Stan Van Gundy (Pistons) were the others. Gregg Popovich of the Spurs is now the only NBA head coach who is also his team’s head of basketball operations.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Nurse, Vanterpool Top List Of Rising Head Coach Candidates

No NBA head coaches were replaced during the 2017 offseason, but that’s very unlikely to be the case for 2018. Tim Bontemps of The Washington Post and Chris Mannix of Yahoo Sports suggest that as many as 10 or 11 teams could be on the lookout for a new head coach this offseason.

That list of teams includes three teams with interim head coaches – the Suns, Grizzlies, and Bucks – as well as lottery teams like the Knicks, Magic, Pistons, Hornets, and Hawks. Playoff contenders like the Nuggets and Clippers could also consider a change, particularly if they miss out on the postseason.

Not all of those teams will replace their current head coaches, but there should be a good deal of turnover in the NBA’s coaching ranks this spring. That could open up the door for assistant coaches or G League head coaches who haven’t yet had the opportunity to run their own NBA squads to interview for those jobs in the coming weeks.

With that in mind, Mannix spoke to over three dozen “high-ranking team executives,” getting each of those execs to name two assistants they view as viable head coaching candidates. Mannix’s only criteria? The executives polled couldn’t name assistants from their own staffs, and the assistants named couldn’t have any NBA or major-college head coaching experience already.

Here are the top vote-getters in Mannix’s poll, all of whom were mentioned by at least three different executives:

  1. Nick Nurse (Raptors assistant)
  2. David Vanterpool (Trail Blazers assistant)
  3. Igor Kokoskov (Jazz assistant)
  4. Stephen Silas (Hornets associate head coach)
  5. Adrian Griffin (Thunder assistant)
  6. Nate Tibbetts (Trail Blazers assistant)
  7. Chris Finch (Pelicans assistant)
  8. Jerry Stackhouse (Raptors 905 head coach)
  9. Ryan Saunders (Timberwolves assistant)
  10. Jay Larranaga (Celtics assistant)

Of course, not every team seeking a new head coach in the offseason will be eyeing candidates in this pool. Some clubs will want a candidate with previous head coaching experience, and there should be no shortage of those — Jeff Van Gundy, Mark Jackson, David Blatt, David Fizdale, and Monty Williams are among the veteran coaches who have been linked to various teams already. Other clubs may target a coach from the NCAA pool, such as Villanova’s Jay Wright.

Still, the NBA assistants listed above are viewed around the league as future head coaching candidates, and are the names to keep an eye on if your favorite team is considering a change on its bench.

And-Ones: Sterling, Parker, Crawford

Attorneys for Donald Sterling will argue that wife Shelly Sterling exerted undue influence on one of the two doctors who examined Donald and declared him mentally incompetent, as Ramona Shelburne of ESPN.com details. Donald’s mental competency is no longer on trial. Instead, the probate trial between the Sterlings will center on whether Shelly followed the rules of the Sterling family trust, according to Shelburne. Those rules required that two mental health experts submit letters to the effect that Donald was mentally incompetent before allowing Shelly to take full control of the trust, Shelburne writes. Shelly agreed to sell the Clippers in May to Steve Ballmer, claiming that she fully controlled the trust, but Donald is fighting the sale. Here’s more from around the league:

  • The Spurs kept Tony Parker through Monday, unsurprisingly, but doing so means his $3.5MM partial guarantee is now a fully guaranteed $12.5MM salary for 2014/15.
  • Jamal Crawford of the Clippers had his $1.5MM partial guarantee bumped to a full guarantee of $5.45MM when he remained on the roster through Monday.
  • Kosta Koufos remains on the Grizzlies, so his $500K partial guarantee is now a $3MM full guarantee.
  • Parker’s teammate Austin Daye is also still with the Spurs, so his $250K partial guarantee is a fully guaranteed minimum salary.
  • The Hornets kept Jeffery Taylor around, so his minimum salary went from non-guaranteed to fully guaranteed.
  • It appears as though the Magic are officially under the cap, according to Eric Pincus of Basketball Insiders (Twitter link). That means Orlando loses access to a $6,077,280 trade exception it could have reaped from last week’s Arron Afflalo deal.
  • The Hawks didn’t give big man Gustavo Ayon a qualifying offer by Monday’s deadline, making him an unrestricted free agent, notes Chris Vivlamore of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (Twitter link). There weren’t reports of qualifying offers to James Southerland of the Pelicans, Adonis Thomas of the Sixers and Bernard James of the Mavs, so presumably they’re all unrestricted free agents as well.
  • The Wolves hired Ryan Saunders as an assistant coach, the team announced (on Twitter). Saunders, the son of Wolves head coach/executive Flip Saunders, had served the last five seasons as a Wizards assistant.